With the help of a well-informed
guide, two American visitors
to India discover its hidden riches.
ON FEBRUARY 13 I arrived in New Delhi from Moscow with Sri Prahlada Dasa and his wife, Rukmini Priya Devi Dasi. We will be spending ten days in India, resting and recuperating from our trip to Russia.
After spending one precious day in Vrndavana, I traveled south to Udaipur to join my son, Gaura Sakti Dasa, and two of his business associates, Mickey and Sherry Goldman, all of whom are on a business and recreation trip in Rajasthan. After meeting Mickey and Sherry, I was a little apprehensive about spending a planned five days with them; our initial conversations didn't go much beyond the daily news and the weather. Mickey and Sherry are both older than I am and come from conservative Jewish backgrounds, and I could sense they felt a little uncomfortable around a Hare Krsna devotee in saffron robes. But it appeared that Krsna had a plan for them, which gradually unfolded as the days went by.
When I suggested to Mickey and Sherry that they begin by visiting Udaipur Palace, they asked if I would come along. Though the palace is of little spiritual interest, I agreed, hoping to develop a deeper relationship with them through which I might be able to inspire them in Krsna consciousness.
At the palace we made our way through the inner chambers. When we reached the renowned Room of Mirrors, a young American man, seeing my saffron cloth, approached and asked if he could speak with me. With folded hands he said, "Hari om," and asked if I had ever read the Bhagavad-gita. When I replied that I had, a lively conversation began, wherein we debated whether God is a person or an energy.
Mickey and Sherry listened intently as I presented arguments for the existence of a personal God. My arguments seemed to impress them, and as the day wore on they began asking questions of a spiritual nature. Last night over dinner we discussed a number of spiritual topics, and our conversation seemed to make them more relaxed in my presence. At the end of the evening Mickey concluded by saying that it is unfortunate that in America Krsna consciousness is sometimes thought of as a cult, when in fact it is an ancient religion.
A Hard-Earned Darsana
Pleased with our visit to Udaipur Palace yesterday, Mickey and Sherry ask me to recommend another place to go. I was planning to visit the temple of Sri Nathji in Nathdwara, about fifty kilometers north of Udaipur, and offered to take them along. They were excited about the opportunity, as it was a journey off the general tourist route. But afterwards I wondered if I had made the right decision to invite them along. How would they, as members of the Jewish faith, relate to deity worship?
I explained that in the Vedic tradition, the deity is carved from stone, marble, or wood, and after installation according to authorized scriptures, is accepted as identical with the Lord.
Grappling with the new idea, at first they seemed confused.
Mickey said, "We were taught that worshiping such statues is idol worship."
Then to my surprise, Sherry spoke up and said that because God is present everywhere, there is no reason He couldn't be in the deity while at the same time not being limited to that form. Mickey nodded his head in agreement. Confident that my new friends had made a little progress in Krsna consciousness, I opened the door of the taxi as it arrived, and we began our journey to Nathdwara.
Mickey and Sherry were obviously pleased with the exotic atmosphere of Nathdwara, with its colorful flags, banners, and shanai bands that welcome thousands of pilgrims. Approaching the Sri Nathji temple, we saw many pilgrims waiting for the doors to open, the men at one set of doors, the women at another. The custom at the temple is that when the doors are opened, the pilgrims charge forward to have the best vantage point for seeing Sri Nathji. The women are directed to the front of the temple, and the men toward the back.
I told Mickey and Sherry that it would be "every man for himself" when the doors opened and that they should try their best to get inside the temple and see the deity. We would meet outside after the thirty-minute darsana [viewing] was over. There wasn't much else I could do. I knew from experience that darsana of Sri Nathji was like a transcendental football match, with hundreds of pilgrims pushing and shoving to see Him in a very limited space.
Sure enough, when the conch sounded and the doors opened, hundreds of men and women surged forward to get Sri Nathji's darsana. Sherry's eyes opened wide as she was suddenly swept into the temple with a wave of women. I grabbed Mickey by the arm as the men's group tumbled into the darsana hall. As the crowd surged forward, Mickey and I were shoved backward and forward, while simultaneously being spun around, as everyone clamored to see Krsna.
My few moments of meditation on Sri Nathji were broken when the huge crowd, heaving with hundreds of devotees, suddenly spilled Mickey and me back out onto the stone steps in front of the temple.
While gathering ourselves, I looked anxiously at Mickey, wondering how he had fared with his first darsana of the Lord in a temple. Buttoning up his shirt and rearranging his disheveled clothes, he looked at me and said with a surprised look on his face, "I made it!" It wasn't exactly the reaction I had hoped for.
A few moments later Sherry emerged from the temple with a blissful look on her face. With a big smile she said, "Maharaja, I got some of the sacred water, and I also ate the little green leaves the priest gave me!"
As we walked back to the car, she excitedly told us how she had been "right in front of the deity" and began explaining in detail how beautiful He looked. As she described His big eyes, His charming smile, and His curious form "bent in three places," I smiled, remembering my apprehension as to how she and her husband would understand what a deity was. A few days ago they had come to India as simple tourists, but by the Lord's mercy had already begun to understand some aspects of the all-beautiful Lord.
Mercy From Govindaji
Our entourage of Gaura Sakti, Mickey and Sherry Goldman, and I reached Jaipur on the morning of February 18. We were joined by Sri Prahlada and Rukmini Priya, arriving from Vrndavana. Mickey and Sherry were eager to see the sights of the Pink City constructed by Maharaja Jai Sing II as a fortress to protect Srila Rupa Gosvami's deities, Sri Sri Radha-Govindaji, who left Vrndavana when the Moguls invaded India in the late 1700s.
The temple of Radha-Govinda was naturally the first place to visit because of its being in the very center of the city. Thousands of people begin their day there by attending the early morning mangala-arati or greeting the deities a little later in the morning.
I first came to Radha-Govinda's temple as a new sannyasi in 1979. I was traveling alone on my way to South India to visit the appearance site of Lord Nrsimha in Ahovalam. When I entered Radha-Govinda's temple early one morning, thousands of people were singing beautiful songs to Govindaji with intense emotion. With their hands together in namaskara, they swayed back and forth, appealing to the deity with love and devotion. I had been chanting Hare Krsna for years, but I had never chanted with so much feeling. The fact that thousands of people were doing so simultaneously had an overwhelming effect on me. I realized that the holy names were the only means of deliverance in this age, and I witnessed that the beauty of Govindaji made those devotees call out to Him with love.
As Mickey and Sherry entered the Radha-Govinda temple with me, they seemed relieved that visiting a temple didn't necessarily mean going through the pushing and shoving we encountered with the enthusiastic followers of Sri Nathji in Nathdwara. Although thousands of people were coming to see Govindaji, there was ample space in the large temple. To my surprise, Mickey and Sherry went straight to the front to get a good view of Radha-Govinda and study Their transcendental forms. In Nathdwara they had only a glimpse of Sri Nathji; here they wanted to see first-hand who all the commotion was about.
Our discussion about deity worship had evolved since our initial conversation, when they politely referred to it as "idol worship." But they had witnessed something special at Sri Nathji's temple and were curious to know more. Their attitude reminded me of Srila Prabhupada's words at the installation of the first Radha-Krsna deities in Los Angeles.
"If you see these deities as brass," he said, "They will remain like that to you forever. But if you approach Them with love and devotion, one day They will speak to you."
Seeing Mickey and Sherry intently studying the forms of Radha and Krsna, the head pujari [priest] did an amazing thing that only deepened my faith in the power of the deity to reciprocate with our approaches to Him. He called Mickey and Sherry forward to the front of the altar and had them stand only ten feet away from Radha-Govinda. Sherry had spontaneously bought a garland outside the temple, and now that she was in front of the deity, she gathered strength and slowly handed it to the pujari, indicating that he should give it to Radha and Krsna. Understanding the special moment, thepujari took the garland and gave it to Radharani, and then took two garlands from Radharani and tulasi leaves from the feet of Govindaji and came back and gave them to Mickey and Sherry. I and many pilgrims present watched in amazement.
When Mickey and Sherry came back from the altar, they garlanded themselves, ate the tulasi leaves, and folded their hands in namaskara, looking at Radha and Krsna.
Deciding that from this point on I would have no hesitation in bringing them closer to the Lord, I gave them several of Govindaji's huge sweetballs and suggested they distribute them. As soon as they held the prasadam out, they were deluged by pilgrims eager for mercy. Mickey was in bliss and turned to me to say, "It's better to give than to receive."
We left very early the next day for Vrndavana. Mickey and Sherry were eager to go to Vrndavana because I had told them there were five thousand temples there.
During the ride, Mickey asked if there were deities in every temple.
"Yes, of course," I said.
Then he asked if all the deities were black.
"Yes," I replied, "most of Them are."
When he asked, "Who is the girl always standing next to Krsna?" I gave him a brief explanation.
As he started with yet another question, I had to say, "Mickey, let's take a little rest now. We'll talk about all this in Vrndavana. The atmosphere there is very conducive to these types of questions."
For a few moments he was silent, and then like a young boy he asked "How long will it take us to get to Vrndavana?"
I replied, "I don't think it's going to take you very long to get there, Mickey."
"What's that?" he asked.
"Nothing, Mickey. Let's take rest," I said.
I couldn't believe the transformation that had taken place with our two guests from rural America. Only days before they'd had so many doubts about worshiping the deity of the Lord. Now they were expressing such eagerness to see Him. Krsna is surely the supreme mystic.
Our small party entered Vrndavana early on the morning of February 20. In a sense, Mickey and Sherry had come to Vrndavana as pilgrims. Although they were tourists in India, they were no longer interested in going to the spots where tourists generally go. On the way to Vrndavana, they had taken a side trip to India's ultimate tourist destination, the Taj Mahal. But upon entering Vrndavana, they could at once perceive the difference.
As we neared ISKCON's Krsna-Balarama Temple and the adjacent MVT buildings, where they would be staying, Mickey offered his first assessment of Vrndavana: "The Taj Mahal was dead compared with Vrndavana. There's a special atmosphere here."
We soon took rickshas into town to visit the Radha-Damodara temple, where I told Mickey and Sherry about Srila Prabhupada's coming to the West. The story so touched their hearts that when Sri Prahlada led kirtana in Srila Prabhupada's room, they enthusiastically chanted Hare Krsna with us. It was the first time they had chanted, and it seemed to me to be the beginning of the end of their material existence.
In the evening we visited the temple of Vraja-Mohana, the deity of Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura. After kirtana, Mickey turned to me and said that he had heard that Vraja-Mohana was a special deity for me. I replied that it was true and that I was helping to reconstruct the temple. I mentioned that my Russian disciples, eager to help me in my service, had recently donated more than $1,000 to paint the temple and make three new outfits for the Lord. I explained to Mickey that this is the real meaning of deity worship; it allows us to render personal, intimate service to the Lord.
Looking at Vraja-Mohana, Mickey said, "I think I understand now."
When we all left the temple, Mickey wasn't around, so I went back inside to find him. From a distance, I saw him with the priest. He was handing him a $100 bill, pointing to the deity and indicating that it was for His service.
On February 21, we visited other prominent temples. As we headed into town that morning, I didn't see Sherry, and I asked Mickey if she would be coming. He smiled and pointed to the group of women accompanying us. There I saw Sherry in a silk sari with a bindi on her forehead. She kept her head covered the whole day and offered her respects to all the deities in the temples we visited, folding her hands and sometimes praying. I also prayed to those same deities, amazed by Their potency to transform the hearts of my guests.
The next day I went out alone to visit some holy sites where I always feel inspiration. In the evening I returned to Vrndavana to make final preparations for my departure to Africa the next morning. When I arrived there, Mickey and Sherry came to see me. They asked where I had been during the day, and I said I'd been to Govardhana Hill and Radha Kunda. Apparently, some devotees had told them about the glories of those places, and they lamented that they wouldn't have a chance to see them before leaving India. Hearing their enthusiasm to go there, and considering that such a visit would be the crowning glory of their trip to India, I decided to take them to Radha Kunda on our way to Delhi to catch our flights.
Rising early the next day, Gaura Sakti, Mickey, Sherry, and I packed our belongings in the Tata Sumo van that would be taking us to the airport. As I loaded my things, I was already feeling separation from Vrndavana.
By the time we left, we were running late, but Mickey and Sherry were determined to see Govardhana Hill and Radha Kunda. After a quick darsana of Govardhana upon arriving, we proceeded to Radha Kunda, the most sacred of all holy places. Situated in a small rural village, Radha Kunda can be truly appreciated only by those advanced souls whose eyes are covered by the salve of love of God. Beginners can have some appreciation by the study of scriptures, but non-devotees can only be bewildered as to why someone would be eager to visit the two little ponds at the foot of Govardhana Hill called Syama Kunda and Radha Kunda.
I could see that I didn't have to worry about Mickey and Sherry. They were eager to see Radha Kunda and appreciated that it was indeed special mercy for them. They had been groomed for this moment by the devotees, and no doubt by the Lord Himself. What tourists ever get darsana of Sri Nathji in Nathdwara, Sri Sri Radha-Govinda in Jaipur, and Sri Sri Radha-Syamasundara in Vrndavana? What tourists live for ten days on the maha-prasadam of the Lord? What tourists get the opportunity to give their hard-earned money to Vraja-Mohana, the beloved deity of Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura? The cumulative effect of all that mercy was evident in the awe and reverence Mickey and Sherry showed when they approached Radha Kunda and put her sacred waters upon their heads.
On the way back to the van, Mickey said to me, "Maharaja, you've been so kind to us these ten days here in India. In particular, you and Sri Prahlada have answered all our questions to our full satisfaction. But I have one question left, and this time I'm afraid that neither of you will be able to answer."
Thinking there might be a lingering doubt in Mickey's mind despite all the mercy he'd received, I asked, "What's that question, Mickey?"
"How will I be able to explain all of this to my friends back home?" he asked. "How does one put into words the wonders of what we've seen and done? How do you explain Vrndavana to those who've never met devotees like yourselves?"
"It's not easy, Mickey," I replied. "But devotees of the Lord carry Vrndavana in their hearts, and wherever they go they share that mercy with others. My spiritual master in particular took Vrndavana to the West. If people read his books, they'll get an idea of the special mercy available here."
As we got into the van, everyone had an empty feeling inside. We felt we were leaving our real home. As we drove down the road and out of Vraja, Mickey and Sherry looked back. From the look in their eyes, I knew one day they would return.
His Holiness Indradyumna Swami travels around the world teaching Krsna consciousness. In Poland each summer he oversees dozens of festivals. Since 1990 these festivals have introduced Krsna to hundreds of thousands of people.
Adapted from the unpublished Diary of a Traveling Preacher, Volume 3, Chapters 22-24. To receive chapters as they come out regularly on e-mail, write to indradyumna. swami@ pamho. net. (Volumes 1 and 2 are available from the Hare Krsna Bazaar. http://www.krishna.com)